by Jeremy Buckley (photos by Lauren Turner)
The amazingly expansive list of day shows at SXSW can be daunting to try and tackle. Every year, a handful of websites try to give people a one-stop spot to figure out where to get the free food and booze while taking in a number of bands that might not see face time with the masses otherwise.
In organizing my list of bands I hoped to see for Thursday, it was exciting to realize that Home Slice Pizza’s schedule included two bands I was really hoping to see back to back in the mid-afternoon.
The venue, located a bit south of downtown on Congress St. in a neighborhood district, is one of those makeshift venues that doesn’t see a lot of play throughout the year, but brings some serious traffic to the restaurant every day during SXSW. Ivan & Alyosha was slated to play at 4:40 p.m., but it wasn’t too surprising to show up at 4:30 and see that the band scheduled to play in the slot prior to I&A’s set still sludging through a sound check. Especially considering there were at least 10 people on the stage during said sound check.
But as patience is sometimes a virtue, I staked out a spot in the shade (the temperature was approaching 90 degrees) and went back to writing down times for bands I was hoping to catch before the 8 o’clock hour when my handy dandy printed SXSW schedule would start to do the work for me.
As Typhoon’s members tried in vain to get all of their instruments to register through the tiny stage’s speakers, I couldn’t help but pity the sound guy, who was probably texting management “I’m through if you schedule one more band that has more than five members.”
The band’s singer repeatedly made comments meant to be polite to the crowd, but would frustrate me to no end if I was behind the soundboard. “That last song was called ‘The Honest Truth.’ It has a great guitar part, I’m sorry. I wish you guys could’ve heard it.”
It wasn’t until near the end of the Ivan and Alyosha’s set that I realized that sometimes sound problems consist of factors that are more than meet the eyes. Nothing crazy good about Typhoon, but it was pleasant enough music for a hot afternoon at a venue teeming with children and a pleasant atmosphere full of friends and neighbors.
As I&A set up, I was initially a bit disappointed to see the drummer only set up one drum, and two other band members carrying only acoustic guitars. As Max Holmquist (South of Lincoln) would query, “where’s the bass at yo?” But while the setup wasn’t the same I witnessed when I&A came to the Bourbon Theatre in February, I quickly became appreciative of the minimalist setup that the quick set-up tear-down atmosphere of SXSW day shows seemed to inspire.
(Ivan & Alyosha)
One of the great things about these “blink and you’ll miss it” daytime sets is that the bands know they only have a few songs to expand that ever-desired fan base. With that in mind, they’re usually pretty motivated to bring their A-game. For Ivan & Alyosha, nary a sweat be broken trying to accomplish such a task. The five-piece from Seattle plays beautifully modern folk songs that are easy on the ears and even easier to clap along to. They become familiar by the second or third chorus and then the rhythms are stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
The band pulled off the MTV Unplugged vibe with ease, and it was halfway through their set before they made mention of the authorities, who had apparently stopped by earlier in the day and told Home Slice to put the kibosh on amplified instruments, as the venue’s proximity to residences meant they didn't have the necessary noise permit.
Since the show must go on - the stripped down sets, the sound problems with Typhoon’s roster, the delayed start times – they all made sense. The audience politely kept the volume low, except for when I&A finished a song, when the level of applause went up after each song reaching a crescendo after the set closing “Glorify.”
Home Slice had two stages set up, I assume based on the popularity of the band. After I&A’s set I had to walk a whole 10 feet to get a good view of Great Lake Swimmers, who were next on the schedule. Another band that has made its way to Lincoln and Omaha in the past, the Toronto-based foursome was a good follow up to the soothing folk sounds of I&A. I’m still unsure if the band had any specific goals in making the trek down to Austin, as I’m not aware of any new album on the horizon and I was familiar with the songs on the set list from start to finish. Perhaps they came for the weather. In any case, the band made quick work of barreling through a medley of hits including “Everything is Moving So Fast,” “I Am Part of a Large Family” and “Moving Pictures Silent Films.”
(Great Lake Swimmers)
After GLS, it was time to head into the downtown area to see what kind of madness would come out of combining tens of thousands of music fans with the Holy Grail of American drinking holidays, St. Patrick’s Day. A not-so-quick bus ride during rush hour work traffic got us as close as 2nd St. so we walked the last four blocks to the epicenter of SXSW. Turning right onto 6th was a much different beast as it was on Wednesday, as the crowd had swelled to peak time numbers, and the official shows were still two hours away.
Without an agenda until the official showcases, we stopped back into Cheers Shot Bar, a venue quickly becoming a quick stop when a cold beverage is needed. Five bucks for a 24-ounce Sapporo isn’t a bad deal at any bar, and becomes an even better value when the musicians playing at a no-cover show are pretty solid, as was the case with Bobby Long.
When he started his set I wasn’t paying much attention, but his voice carried the songs in a way most bands need multiple instruments to, and his stage banter further made up for the lack of a backing band.
“This next song is about a girl who sucks. She might be here,” he gnarled before adding the clincher as to why they never should’ve dated in the first place. “She likes drums and bass. That bitch.”
While his songs may have been written in anger, their presentation fit in perfectly with the clear sky sunset that provided the backdrop behind him as day turned into night in Austin.
Though I’d already seen The Bears of Blue River, I wanted to get a taste of what they might see of a crowd for their official showcase. As the 8 o’clock hour ticked by, I found myself in a room of 20 or so souls at the Velveeta Room, which traditionally plays host to comedians. Again, the Share the Bear crew was greeted by a small by appreciative crowd, and singer Gavin Wilkinson continued to explain that his songs came out of life situations that weren’t all unicorns and rainbows.
(The Bears of Blue River)
“I wrote this song after I got my ass kicked. Not the time in Kansas, that was later. This one is about the first time I got my ass kicked,” he explained. I only had about 2o minutes to spare, as I was hoping to catch a bit of California Wives down the street during their 8 o’clock showcase.
My untagged video camera made that wish impossible to grant, as the door guy at Buffalo Billiards wasn’t interested in letting me bend the rules, so instead I headed over to Maggie Mae’s to get situated for The Chain Gang of 1974.
As I entered the venue, the band began a high energy set that remind me of bands like The Faint and Bloc Party. The crowd was rather sizeable, understandably, once the singer commented, “I know you guys are here to see OMD, but hopefully we can entertain you in the meantime.”
(Chain Gang of 1974)
Entertain us they did, as the tempo never wavered from frantic as the set progressed.
The 10 o’clock hour presented something of a wildcard for me, as the shows I was most interested were either far from the 6th street corridor (Devotchka at Luster Pearl) or high profile with assumedly long lines (Portugal. The Man at Stubb’s). Instead we checked out another makeshift venue, knowing this spot would be great for a show.
As we walked past G Love, playing solo, on the way to our seats at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, I was excited about the prospect of seeing an indie-rock band play at a church. Let me make it clear that we were NOT there to see G Love, we just showed up a bit early for the performer we had come to see. In between sets I made some new friends from Boston (who could care less about the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees) and a lady who though it was super cute that in an era of iPhones and integrated Google calendars I still preferred to carry around a small scratch of paper with my day’s best bets scribbled in cursive.
Lia Ices was a band I was wholly unfamiliar with before her band steeped onto the stage. My friend Lauren is a big fan and was excited at the prospect of shooting pictures of a band whose catalog she was rather familiar with. I settled in to my fourth row pew and listened with an open mind.
The songs were great; Ices voice was reminiscent of Joanna Newsom but lacked the verbal twisting of words that makes some detest Newsom’s vocals. She played the part of the demure songstress, eager to share her music with the masses, but still in the zone of being very appreciative that people actually listen.
As midnight came around, I wondered how much of a crowd Those Darlins would see. I had yet to visit the Swan Dive so I wasn’t privy to the size of the club. After skipping the line to get in (thanks handy wristband!), I grasped that the 400-capacity club was close to capacity, mostly filled with old dudes.
Those Darlins is a four-piece band with three women who don’t mess around. The Murfreesboro, Tenn. based band sings songs about how men do women wrong with a snarl that tells me I’d lose a bar fight in mere seconds to any of the three. The crowd was rowdy and the night had gotten late enough that the bartenders were having trouble with simple math and assumed that every extra dollar from a 20 spot paid for two Bud’s was meant for the tip jar.
Toro Y Moi was slated for 1 a.m. at the 512 Rooftop, but their set was in a room about the size of my pinky so we left still hungry in our quest for some chillwave.
Instead we headed back to Buffalo Billiards for a band from Denmark called Oh Land. My concert buddy Lauren provided a disclaimer before heading into the show. “I really like one of their songs but don’t be surprised if the rest of the set turns into bubble gum pop mushiness,” she explained. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point. I went in expecting the next Britney Spears, and that was pretty spot on for what the band was going for. They played pop songs I assume were written by a hopeful hit maker. And the singer, a blond with a sense of fashion that doesn’t fit in America banged on a synthesizer at times to mimic a drum beat, but it didn’t sound like she was adding any sound to the instrumentation of the song.
That all said, the songs were pretty easy to listen to and the crowd was appreciative. The set made me wonder what international female pop sensations have ever made a splash in America. The best we could come up with were Celine Dion, Ace of Base and Alanis Morissette (feel free to add a few in a comment on this story).
Oh Land finished what was actually a pretty calm St. Patty’s Day in retrospect. Friday’s schedule is a little more hectic. I’ll check back in tomorrow with another daily recap.
Jeremy Buckley is already dreaming of his own bed. He feels pretty old right now for being only 32.